In this lesson, I'll talk about fear of failure and other negative emotions.
Fear of failure motivates us to work harder to achieve success. We reject failure so vigorously that we cannot take the risks that are necessary for growth. This fear not only compromises our performance but jeopardizes our psychological well-being.
But Failure is an inescapable and a critically important part of any successful life.
As we grow, We learn to walk by falling, to talk by babbling, to hammer a nail into the wall by missing. Those who intensely fear failing end up falling short of their potential. We either learn to fail, or we don't learn at all.
A happy life is not composed of an endless stream of positive emotions. If a person experiences envy or anger, disappointment or sadness, fear or anxiety, it doesn't mean that she is not really happy. All normal people experience these normal unpleasant feelings. Experiencing these emotions, at times, is a sign that we are not robots, that we are alive.
Paradoxically, when we do not allow ourselves to experience painful emotions, we limit our capacity for happiness.
These painful emotions only expand and intensify when they aren't released. When they finally break through – and they eventually do that – they overwhelm us.
Painful emotions are an inevitable part of the experience of being human, and therefore rejecting them is ultimately rejecting part of our humanity. To lead a full and fulfilling life – a happy life – we need to allow ourselves to experience the full range of human emotions. We need to give ourselves permission to be human.
Perfectionists have their own grand symbols of success, which don't bring them any satisfaction, at least not for a long time: "they need a new symbol each time they do something."
They never consider anything they do to be good enough. Although they are clearly a great success, and everybody around them says so, they are unable to see themselves as successful. They actually reject success.
Perfectionist consistently measures himself against standards that are almost impossible to meet. Even when he attains it, he would quickly dismiss his success as trivial and move on to the next impossible goal.
Basically, perfectionists reject failure, reject painful emotions, and reject success.
Intense fear of failure does not let us venture outside the box, we stop experimenting, and thus diminish our ability to learn and to grow. Some people become chronic procrastinators, afraid to begin a project if they are not certain of a perfect outcome. Sometimes innovation is rejected for the sake of tried-and-true, the safe, and the mediocre.
People seem to "have it all" but are nevertheless unhappy. If the only dream we have is of a perfect life, we are doomed to disappointment since such dreams simply cannot come true in the real world. Perfectionism makes all of our real-life accomplishments seem unimportant. We are unable to take real and lasting pleasure in our successes.
We measure our own worth entirely in terms of productivity and accomplishment.
The Perfectionist expects his path toward any goal – and his entire journey through life – to be smooth and easy, free of obstacles. When, inevitably, it isn't – when he fails at a task, for instance, or when things don't quite turn out the way he expected – he is extremely frustrated and has difficulty coping.
You need to accept failure as a natural part of life and as an experience that is inevitably linked to success. Failure to get the job you wanted or arguing with your spouse is part of a full and fulfilling life; you learn what you can from these experiences and emerge stronger and more resilient.
Perfectionists are unhappy in college, largely because they can not accept failure as a necessary part of learning and living. They believe that a happy life comprises an uninterrupted stream of positive emotions. And because they want to be happy, they reject painful emotions. They don't permit themselves to feel sad when for example, a work opportunity is lost. They try not to experience the deep pain that follows the end of an important relationship.
You need to accept that painful emotions are an inevitable part of being alive. Give room for sadness and pain, allow such feelings to deepen your overall experience of life – the unpleasant as well as the pleasant. You don't have to, even shouldn't radiate joy 24=7
There must be so many perfectionists out there who have not advanced in their careers in the way they might have, given their skills and talents. Many of those will be people who have avoided tasks and situations which they find threatening because of the risk of appearing incompetent or looking foolish. They will pull back from anything where there is a risk of failure, and because of that, they deny themselves new experiences and the personal growth that goes with that.
The Perfectionist is never satisfied. She consistently sets goals and standards that are just impossible to meet. That's why she rejects the possibility of success from the beginning. No matter what she achieves – how well she does in school or how high up the career ladder she climbs – she can never take any pleasure in her accomplishments. No matter what he has – how much money he has made, how wonderful his spouse is, how much recognition he receives from his peers – it is never good enough for him. What he is actually doing is rejecting success from his life, because regardless of his objective successes, he never feels successful.
There is nothing wrong with setting extremely high standards, but your standards should be attainable, they should be grounded in reality. When you meet your goals, just appreciate your successes and take time to experience gratitude for your accomplishments.
Perfectionists reject reality and replace it with a fantasy world – a world in which there is no failure and no painful emotions and in which their standards for success, no matter how unrealistic, can actually be met. In the real world, some failure and sorrow are inevitable.
So accept failure as natural – even if you do not enjoy failing. This way, you'll experience less performance anxiety and derive more enjoyment from your activities. If you accept painful emotions as an inevitable part of being alive, you will not magnify them by trying to suppress them. Just experience these emotions, learn from them, and move on. If you accept real-world limits and constraints, you can set goals that you can actually attain.
You need to learn to fail, you need to give yourself permission to be human. You can set ambitious yet realistic goals and then appreciate your success in achieving them.
Perfectionists have their own view on the process of achieving goals. Failure has no role in the journey toward the peak of the mountain; the ideal path toward their goals is the shortest, most direct path – a straight line. Anything that impedes their progress toward the ultimate goal is viewed as an unwelcome obstacle, a hurdle in their path.
Failure is an inevitable part of the journey of getting from where you are to where you want to be. You can view the journey not as a straight line but as something more like an irregular upward spiral – while the general direction is toward your objective, you know that there will be numerous deviations along the way.
The Perfectionist likes to think that his path to success can be, and will be, failure-free, a straight line. But the reality is different. Whether we like it or not – and most of us do not like it – we often stumble, make mistakes, reach dead ends, and need to turn back and start over again.
The Perfectionist, with his expectation of a flawless progression along the path to his goals, is unreasonable in his expectations of himself and of his life. He is engaged in wishful thinking and is detached from reality.
You need to accept that the journey will not always be smooth, that you will inevitably encounter obstacles and detours along the way.
The Perfectionist's primary concern is to avoid falling down, deviating, stumbling, erring. When she understands that this is impossible, she begins to shrink from challenges, to run away from activities where there is some risk of failure. And when she actually fails – when she sooner or later comes face-to-face with her imperfections, with her humanity – she is devastated. This only intensifies her fear of failing in the future.
Failure is an opportunity for receiving feedback. When you are not intensely afraid of failure, you can learn from it – when you fail at something, you can take your time, "digest" your failure, and learn what set you back. Then you try again and try harder. By focusing on growth and improvement, and by rebounding from setbacks, you accept a more indirect way to your destination. If you don't give up or become paralyzed by the fear of failure, you have a much better chance of actually reaching your goals.
This is the end of lesson 3. In the next lesson, you'll learn about perfectionistic behavior at work.